Post-Racial Racism: Racial Stratification and Mass Incarceration in the Age of Obama

48 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2009 Last revised: 16 Mar 2010

Date Written: January 18, 2010


What does the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the United States presidency portend for race in America? This Essay uses the tremendous racial disparities in the American crime control system to assess race and racism as key features of contemporary society. The Essay begins by considering a compelling thesis that racialized mass incarceration stems from backlash to the civil rights movement. If true, this raises the possibility that Obama’s election, potentially marking the end of backlash politics, also represents a likely turning point in the war on crime. The Essay then reconsiders mass imprisonment from the perspective of “racial stratification,” a structural theory that emphasizes the simultaneous formation of racial categories and the misallocation of resources between races. A stratification approach leaves one less sanguine about rapid change in American race relations, though without disparaging either the historic nature of Obama’s inauguration or the possibility of incremental improvements in racial justice. Reflecting the continued need to push for positive racial change, the Essay concludes by arguing morally and politically for a renewed focus on racism, in particular on “post-racial racism.”

Keywords: race, racism, crime, criminal law, racial stratification, structural racism

Suggested Citation

Haney-Lopez, Ian F., Post-Racial Racism: Racial Stratification and Mass Incarceration in the Age of Obama (January 18, 2010). California Law Review, 2010, UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 1418212, Available at SSRN:

Ian F. Haney-Lopez (Contact Author)

UC Berkeley School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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